Introducing the Criminal Justice Initiative

Reform is a Cause for Lovers of Liberty

The Mackinac Center’s vision is for all people to enjoy liberty and prosperity. And there is no institution where these ideals are more visibly at stake than the criminal justice system. As our executive vice president observed last year, “The state’s most effective and fearsome power is the ability to penalize a person for crimes committed. Thus the manner in which the state administers that responsibility is a fundamental issue of liberty.” 

It’s an issue of prosperity, too. Michigan spends a lot of money enforcing laws and punishing crime, dedicating nearly $300 million to our judiciary, $658 million to the state police and $2 billion to the Department of Corrections this year. So the Center has launched a new initiative to examine Michigan’s approach to criminal justice and to find cost-effective strategies that make our state freer and safer.  

Criminal justice issues are not new to the Center; we published our first civil asset forfeiture study in 1998 and have recently published papers on the cost of corrections, over-criminalization, criminal intent reform and forfeiture. This work is timely, in light of the many reforms being called for by stakeholders and politicians on both sides of the aisle. 

The growing bipartisanship around this issue presents an important opportunity for us to forge partnerships with unlikely allies. For example, we have worked with the ACLU of Michigan on civil asset forfeiture, and we expect to continue that relationship and forge new ones as we delve into related issues. Partnerships like these are good for the Mackinac Center. More importantly, they’re good for the people of Michigan. 

Although our motivations for criminal justice reform are different from those of our more liberal colleagues, we assume that all of us are doing our best to help Michiganders address a basic human question about right and wrong. And over the coming months, unifying these diverse perspectives will lead us to more effective solutions and better outcomes for offenders, victims and communities. 

Times are tough. The tragic violence our nation has experienced this summer has reinforced a widely held sense that the United States has become hopelessly polarized. So any time we find common ground, we should use it as a foundation for rebuilding trust and respect. We hope that when it comes to more divisive problems, we will all be able to reflect on this collaboration and remember to keep the same presumption of good will and good work that we enjoy in this space.